RIAA court case comes to an end

Written by Phil Cogar

October 5, 2007 | 08:54

Tags: #court-case #damages #lawsuit

Companies: #riaa

The RIAA can sit back, relax, and add another notch to it's growing belt of victories thanks to a jury in Duluth, Minnesota. The jury has awarded $222,000 in damages to the record companies.

Before we get into the finale of the trial, let's go over just what transpired during the two days of proceedings. This will be a long news piece but there is plenty of information contained for those that are interested.

On Tuesday, the jury selection process was done and then opening arguments began. Richard Gabriel, representing the record companies, began by saying that illegally downloading music hurts everyone in the industry - from the executives to the artists and all the way down to the distributors.

He accused Jammie Thomas of sharing more than 1,700 songs on the KaZaA P2P client. He then went on to explain how P2P clients work and how the investigators at SafeNet identify downloaders on the networks.

Following that, Gabriel went on to link Thomas to the tereastarr@KaZaA screenname that SafeNet had identified as sharing the music files. That portion of the case was fairly easy since Thomas has used the handle on MySpace, AIM, and even the Charter email account that the recorded IP was traced back to.

He accused Thomas of lying about the date that a hard drive was replaced in Thomas' computer saying that she had it replaced after receiving a letter from the RIAA in order to get rid of the evidence.

Brian Toder, the lawyer for the defense, then began his opening argument by stating that it was a tough case to prove Thomas' innocence. He claimed that the only solid evidence was the IP and MAC addresses that were used in order to share the music and that it could have been anyone on that connection.

Toder then went on to state that the hard drive in question was replaced before any correspondence from the RIAA or SafeNet was received. Thomas had taken the computer to Best Buy because of "beeping and error messages" and it was the decision of Best Buy to replace the hard drive.

After the opening arguments were made, the first witness for the prosecution, Jennifer Pariser, was called to the stand. Pariser is the head of litigation for Sony BMG and made some interesting comments during the questioning.

According to Pariser, not only is downloading music you already own illegal but so is ripping music from CDs that you have purchased. Yes, you've read that part right. "When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song," Paiser said.

Pariser then went on to say that programs such as iTunes facilitate copyright infringement. So that means that you, me, and millions of other people out there are thieves because we like to rip our legally purchased music onto our hard drives. It sounds like, if the RIAA had its way about it, we would have to purchase a CD album to play in our stereos and another copy of the album to play on our digital music players and computer.

The biggest windfall from the case came from the cross examination of Pariser. Toder managed to get Pariser to admit that all of the lawsuits filed by the RIAA actually lose the record companies money. The record companies also have no clue as to the actual amount that is lost due to piracy.

During the second day of the trial, the prosecution made an attempt to prove that Thomas is guilty of not only uploading music, but downloading music as well. Gabriel argued that timestamps on the music proved that Thomas had copied music directly from another hard drive but the defense had a strong counter-argument. The timestamps showed that there was a fifteen to twenty second interval between songs and thirty to forty-five second interval between albums being placed on the computer.

For the defense, Toder proved that Thomas' computer was capable of ripping two CDs in 4:53:89. This time does not reflect the time it took to switch CDs.

The trial then went on with Ryan Maki, a Best Buy Geek Squad member, being called to the stand. Maki admitted that Best Buy records showed that Thomas had purchased hundreds of CDs both before and after the alleged infringement took place.

At the end of the second day, Thomas finally took the stand but, as it stands, did not help out her case. While Thomas did confirm that she used the screenname "tereastarr" in many places such as Match.com, MySpace, and her home computer login, she denied ever having KaZaA installed on her computer.

The prosecution then pointed out that the music found in the shared file of KaZaA user "tereastarr" matched the same music that was found on Thomas' hard drive. A mixed variety of artists such as Enya, Green Day, Black Sabbath, Sheryl Crow, and Lacuna Coil were found in both locations.

There was also some discrepancies between Thomas' deposition in March and her testimony on Wednesday. In her deposition, Thomas said that she ripped "no more than six or seven CDs a day" but when asked how over 2,000 songs were placed on her computer in a two day time period, Thomas said that her son was not playing hockey anymore and she had time to sit down and rip all of her CDs.

In the end, the prosecution built up a very strong case for the recording companies.

The record companies were originally after copyright infringement for twenty-seven songs but three were dropped from the list. That left twenty-four songs that Thomas could be liable for infringing upon for a maximum fine of up to $3.6 million in damages.

Before the jury was sent out for deliberation, the members were instructed that, in order to find infringement, the jury had to decide if an actual transfer took place. "The mere act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer-to-peer network without license from copyright owners does not violate the copyright owners' exclusive right to distribution," read the instructions to the jury. "An actual transfer must take place." Of course Gabriel was not pleased with this instruction and called for a review of the jury instructions. Review was postponed until Thursday morning.

On Thursday morning, Judge Michael Davis revised the jury instructions by tweaking a couple of them. He postponed reviewing the aforementioned instruction until last since it was the most debated. In the end, Judge Davis amended the instruction by saying "act of making available for electronic distribution... violates the copyright owner's exclusive copyright."

With the the debating over jury instructions done with, the jury members deliberated for four hours and came back with a final verdict. Jammie Thomas has been found guilty of twenty-four counts of copyright infringement and is liable for $222,000 in damages to the recording industry. It is still unknown as to whether or not the RIAA will enforce and try to collect the judgement.

So there we have it folks, the RIAA has won the first jury trial stemming from the massive amounts of infringement notices being sent out. This is sure to only add fire to the flames of lawsuits being sent out. Unless the ruling is overturned in an appeal, the RIAA will use this victory in order to help scare people away from using P2P networks to share music.

Does this victory for the RIAA make you think twice about looking for your favourite album on a P2P network or will it still be "business as usual" for you? Tell us your thoughts about the case and its outcome by discussing it with us over in the forums.
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